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Autism and Home-schooling – A Candid Discussion with Parents about Learning in Lockdown

09 Mar 2021

Autism and Home-schooling – A Candid Discussion with Parents about Learning in Lockdown

AnnMarie, mother of Charlotte and Georgiana, sat down with Nicola, a member of the AET team to discuss her experiences home-schooling an autistic child during lockdown. Charlotte is five years old and she had her diagnosis of autism when she was 2 and a half. AnnMarie and her husband have also been educating their neuro-typical child, Georgiana. Discover how they found the experience…

Interviewer:

So please, could you tell me a little bit about some of the difficulties your child has during lockdown, and some of the pressures you as a family have been under?

AnnMarie:

So, when in the first initial lockdown (because there has obviously now there’s been three) but in the first one, when schools had closed, well, I found it difficult with my other daughter as well, but it was just, what do I do with her at home?

She’d only just started school

…so it was just, she was supposed to start in September 2019, but she didn’t start her new school until January. So, she was barely in the school, and obviously they do ABA therapy if you’re aware of ABA therapy… So yeah, we just found it difficult, like they were saying of what we could try and do with her at home.

But obviously Charlotte, in the short space of time she was at school, it was as if she knew the difference between school and home, and

she knew what she could get away with at home, she knew there’s TV’s as distractions, iPads as distractions, phones…

… so we were finding that she was getting a little bit more anxious and irate because I was then trying to do this work with her, but obviously still trying to home-school my other daughter who has the normal maths, English reading, spellings.

So yeah, we found that, well…

…I personally found that really difficult.

My husband had to continue working full time. Luckily, I’m only part-time so, and we normally would have my parents, Georgiana, and Charlotte’s grandparents as support. But we then for their health and safety and with how serious it was at the beginning, we stayed clear of them and didn’t use them for the childcare support.

…my main thing is just to keep her happy and healthy and jolly.

Yes, in the first lockdown we had weather on our side, so we were able to do outdoor play which she absolutely loves with sand and water and things like that. But obviously then trying to then sit down and be serious with my other child with which we now have to do Maths and timetable, it was just all a bit stressful.

This time round, it’s not been as bad. The school have been brilliant with what they’ve given us as things to do, and it’s also been where they were phoning us weekly as well, where it was just a half an hour call, but it was asking me if I had any difficulties and we were finding that Charlotte was screaming a lot more when we would take the iPad away from her. So they gave me tips and techniques to even if it was just waiting for two seconds and then build in that two seconds up,

they were giving us tips on that of as to how we could try and stop the initial scream fest, which upsets all of us…

Interviewer:

Tell me a little bit about Charlotte…

AnnMarie:

So, Charlotte is five years old. She’s going to be six in March. She is non-verbal. She does say certain words. She’s grown on her certain words with picture exchange communication that she’s been using. So, she’ll now start to say the ‘I want’, and a particular item that she might have learned how to say.

…there was something different from about 10 months to about 18 months she just regressed in her mama, dada, baba speech from 10 months onwards, and then she got a diagnosis was about two and a half years old. She did do a lovely stint in model opportunity to play group. A specialist educational playgroup, and then she’s then moved on to her new setting in January of last year.

Interviewer:

You mentioned about building some strategies that the school has shared with you. Do you find that in lockdown, you’ve almost been building your own schooling strategy?

AnnMarie:

Oh yeah, definitely. To be honest, because some of the things that the school has said, it is not going to work in a home setting really, to be honest…

I don’t care what state she comes home in from school to be honest. I’ll quite happily wash it in the washing machine, but obviously I’ve then got to do the cooking, the cleaning and all the regular things that you have to do as a parent anyway.

What they were saying that could help with Charlotte and her learning, I picked certain bits of it. Try to get my other daughter involved because then it was the three of us interacting at the table.

Interviewer:

In terms of your wellbeing as a parent, as a mum, what’s been keeping you sane, and what advice would you give to other parents about how to manage their sanity with home-schooling?

AnnMarie:

I think you definitely just have to take some time away from it. Don’t have too much pressure on yourself. Obviously, Charlotte is young, so she is still learning through play as such, but just don’t put too much pressure on yourself so…

…try and take some time out for yourself if you can.

Obviously, I have a husband, so I can say maybe at the weekends, I’m just going upstairs for a couple of hours just to get my head straight and have my own thoughts because Charlotte can be a very sensory sniffy person around your face and it can get on your wick some of the time!

So, take time for yourself. Just don’t have too much pressure on yourself.

Interviewer:

You mentioned about juggling home-schooling and work and that you work, part-time.

So how have you been juggling your part-time work and home-schooling with Charlotte?

AnnMarie:

Well, when I’m at work, then my husband does the home-schooling for the day. I only just work the one day. It’s a long day from seven o’clock in the morning till half seven at night, but my husband has been taking the day off… Then he then tries to concentrate on home-schooling, but to be honest he’s got his work to do as well in the background that we that’s a day that we leave Charlotte to, not to her devices, but I try to not put too much pressure on getting Charlotte sorted and then just concentrating on Georgie’s basic Maths and English and, just keeping Charlotte happy that day to be honest, that’s my main goal when I’m at work, because she is very much a mummy’s person, but I just don’t want her to get too stressed and then Andrew to get stressed and Georgiana to get stressed. So just try to keep a happy house to be honest.

Interviewer:

Do you think Charlotte is learning new skills by being at home and being home-schooled in this way?

AnnMarie:

I think it’s very limited to be honest, because we haven’t obviously been able to go out very often anyway, but we’re still doing the same things.

I think what we have tried to really incorporate is the independence in the dressing and things like that.

That’s what we’ve tried to concentrate on it at home because obviously in the mornings, on a normal school morning you’d be rushing to get them out the door whereas at home you have that little bit more time. You don’t have to be down in the living room for 10 past nine instead of at the school at 10 past nine, if you’re 10 minutes late, it doesn’t matter.

…we have been trying to concentrate more on the independent things of like activities of daily living.

And the brushing of the teeth and things like that.

Interviewer:

That is a really key skill to be developing, isn’t it?

AnnMarie:

Yeah, they were doing it at the school in regards to P.E when she was getting dressed for P.E.

Yes, it’s not a uniform but it’s still just putting on some leggings and a t-shirt. She can try and do some of that as independently as possible then we feel that we’ve tried to continue that skill at home as such.

Interviewer:

What would be the three things that you’ve found most challenging about the situation that you’re in now?

AnnMarie:

Not having time away from her to be honest. I know there’s obviously school holidays but it’s nice to have that mental break from her because she is really an energetic child and to not then have the guilt of saying to even my parents, “Oh can you just have Charlotte for the morning?” Just so I can go and do something whether it’s walk around the local shop just for half an hour.

What else has been difficult? Well, the sleeping thing has got a little bit worse because there isn’t that regular routine of getting up, getting dressed into the uniform, going to school. It was each day has been merging into one. So, we went through a difficult patch of her not even wanting to get out of her pyjamas. It was a complete half an hour scream fest.

And I think increased stress amongst myself and my husband as well, because it is stressful just constantly being around each other for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I know he’s going to work Monday to Friday, but it is still stressful. I forget that he’s working, but then when he comes home in the evening or the weekend, I’m like here, can you just mind Charlotte, because you can’t obviously leave her for more than five seconds without her getting in trouble with something.

But he’s like, I’ve worked all week and it is true he has worked all week. But it’s just I’m like well, so have I in a way, do you not think I’ve not? We’ve still been trying to work with the home-school and then things like that. So, I think stress levels have definitely gone up a few notches in the lockdown as well.

Interviewer:

Can you share three positives that you’ve experienced from home-schooling?

AnnMarie:

I think just relationship-wise through… Because obviously Charlotte mainly has me Monday to Friday, but with Andrew having the time at home as well when I’m at work with Georgiana being here yes, it’s not easy for Georgiana, but the two of them, when they have been able to play together in a what’s more alone learning strategy for Charlotte.

…and her relationship that she’s built with daddy as well, because when daddy’s at work she sometimes doesn’t see him throughout the week, he’s off before she wakes up sometimes and then by the time he gets home she’s in bed. So it’s been nice that definitely her relationship has grown and it’s been nice to still have just literally the family time, even if it’s just going out for a walk, which she loves being out in the outdoors…

So you do realise that you just go back to basics

… and just have that time with your family really and which is nice for you. That’s been the positives.

Interviewer:

…I know you mentioned about the dressing, so getting dressed independently. Is there anything else that perhaps she wouldn’t have tried that she has had the opportunity to try?

AnnMarie:

Maybe when we’d been out for walks and things, we’ve been able to work more on the road safety side of things, which really to be honest while she’s at school they do things with her in regards to teaching her how to stop and to go.

So yeah, we have I suppose some safety aspects that she’s maybe picked up on a little bit more, she’s listening more to words of stop and wait and things like that I’d say.

Interviewer:

Have you managed to get into any routine with your home-schooling?

AnnMarie:

I would say no.

I try to definitely, Monday to Friday, try to be up by a certain time and dressed and downstairs for breakfast. I think we’ve tried to keep with that routine, but in regards to setting down a certain time to do a certain activity no, definitely not with Charlotte.

Interviewer:

In terms of supporting Charlotte with her home-schooling, have you got any advice that you would give to another parent?

AnnMarie:

Obviously, I think schools would support you. We have had the support from Charlotte’s school.

They come up with some brilliant ideas of what you could do with them, but you just might have to tweak them slightly that’s going to work for you at home, and yeah just don’t put too much pressure on yourself, but obviously just…

…try and tweak things that are going to work to your schedule.

Interviewer:

… how are you feeling about the prospect of Charlotte returning to school?

AnnMarie:

So I’m delighted that she is actually going to be going back full time. I don’t know when my other daughter’s going to be going back. So, it takes the pressure off me to be able to home-school Georgiana effectively because Charlotte’s not there in the background making all the mess and all the noise, which she has been really quite bad in this locked down and the first lockdown back in March 2020…

Interviewer:

Is there anything else you would like to add?

AnnMarie:

… I think it was just very mixed messages as to which children could go back to school.

We were asked the question from Charlotte’s school in just a short questionnaire like would you want your child to go back to school if she could? Yes, I would. Do you think your child’s safety is at risk if they do stay at home with you? Well, no, of course my child’s safety isn’t going to be a risk that’s our main goal in life is to keep her safe because she is so vulnerable. So, it was a bit of an unfair question that well, of course her safety is always going to be our number one priority.

So just to word it differently as to how to support us a bit more and yes, phone calls home to see how the wellbeing and things like that were brilliant, but I think you just did still feel very alone definitely in the first lockdown.

Obviously the second lockdown, they were still technically in school and then this third lockdown, it definitely has improved. The communication, the support, the quicker decisions as to are we going to be taking some children back into the school environment.

Interviewer:

A final question, what’s more important to you, Charlotte’s wellbeing or her education?

AnnMarie:

Oh, her well-being definitely, definitely. At the end of the day, if you have a happy child, then you know you’re going to have a happy day at the end of the day. If you’re stressing them out too much with trying to sit them down to do these particular activities, and they’re not enjoying it, they don’t want to do it because they know that their home environment is their home environment and school is school. Why would you stress them out and then stress yourself out and start raising your voice and making the whole situation worse? It’s just so definitely ours is being, if she wants something to eat, she has something to eat. If she wants to do a certain activity, she can do the certain activity. She’s still trying to engage with us, which we feel is vital at the moment because of the fact that she is non-verbal. So, her even communicating slightly with us, we’re encouraging that. That’s I think that’s our main goal to be honest.

 

Are you interested in continuing home-education after lockdown? Check out Home Education: Guidance and Resources for Parents.

These two resources offer parents advice and support for home educating. The first, Elective Home Education in England: Know Your Rights, discusses the considerations and implications of choosing to home educate. The second, Top Tips, Strategies and Resources for Parents, offers guidance to parents who have made the decision to home educate their child(ren) or find themselves teaching at home during the pandemic. It includes practical tools and top tips.

Check out our YouTube Channel for more parent interviews!

 

 

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